Using Digital Tools to Enhance Scholarship

Hi all! In this post I’ll be discussing both The Programming Historian and Scalar. Starting with Programming Historian, when following the link provided in the syllabus, the website offers their services in English, Spanish, and French. Although the most lessons are offered in English, it’s still really cool that this service is more accessible to multiple demographics. I clicked on the English option and was brought to a page that looks like this:

The Programming Historian offers dozens of lessons for humanists to get comfortable with using digital tools for their research and project development. Not only do they encourage users to view the tutorials to expand their own knowledge and ability, but they also suggest using their service in the classroom, and crowdsource for contributions.

On the “about” page, it states that the project was originally founded in 2008 as a “Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) ‘Digital Infrastructure’ project.” Twelve years later, they are now a volunteer-driven nonprofit that is committed to rigorous peer review, open source and open access materials, and diversity.

Now getting into the actual service they offer, the lesson search page sorts the lessons by both action and topic.

I chose a low difficulty lesson to try out, entitled “Beginner’s Guide to Twitter Data”. This tutorial uses a freely accessible website from George Washington University that offers hundreds of datasets of tweets, and tells users how to use this website to filter for relevant datasets, and how to download and “hydrate” you dataset. The article then walks through how to analyze the metadata, and how to link the data in Microsoft excel. This last step is thoroughly hashed our using screenshots the process and detailed descriptions. Once they’ve finished explaining how to acquire and download the data, they offer suggestions of uses and application for the data, including a few websites that allow you to create visualizations of data sets.

At the end of each article, they give information about the author(s) and a suggested citation. They encourage the authors to share their work on other platforms, and for readers to share the articles as long as they use the proper citation.

For those who wish to contribute to Programming Historian, there are a variety of instructive articles for how to contribute in different ways, including authoring a new article, reviewing, translating, and editing. These can all be found under the “contribute” tab.

Finally, Programming Historian also offers a blog where they share periodic updates about the project. The blog is also translated into both Spanish and French. Their first newsletter of the year, published on April 1st, talks about how COVID-19 is slowing their work, new members of PH, and new contributors.

This service could be useful to digital humanists at a variety of skill levels and interests. To anyone developing research or digital history projects, Programming Historian may be a great place to explore new skills and services to use to expand and express your ideas. Another website that serves to help scholars express their ideas and research in new and exciting ways is Scalar. According to their website, “Scalar is a free, open source authoring and publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online.” This website offers a space for scholars to develop and publish work that includes a variety of media platforms and interactive interfaces that allow for non-linear viewing. The youtube video featured on the homepage of Scalar offers a comprehensive walk through of their services and mission, and how Scalar offers a unique platform for scholarly work.

The website itself, run by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, is primarily an informational resource for those interested in authoring something with Scalar. On the about tab of the Scalar section of the website, they mostly walk through all of the different services offered to users. There is also a showcase tab where the feature a few of the projects that have been published with Scalar.

They also offer webinars, both for beginning users and intermediate users of the platform, although there aren’t any coming up. Under the “Get Involved” tab, there are options to share feedback, look into hosting your own workshop, and to join the Scalar team. I tried to select the “join” option to see if I could check out what the actual platform looks like, but unfortunately you need to fill out an additional form to acquire a registration key from the Scalar team. I suppose it makes sense to have some sort of vetting considering the service is for scholarly work.

Overall, both of these services seem extremely useful to those looking expand or create comprehensive and professional digital projects. For students, I think that Programming Historian would be more useful, as it is open access and provides low or no cost resources for achieving complicated digital analysis. Scalar may come in handy down the line for people who are interested in publishing scholarship in an interactive, multimedia platform. Either way, these are both interesting, interactive tools to help bring the humanities online in a user friendly and engaging way. Do any of you think you’ll use this in the future? Could you see any of the articles on Programming Historian helping you in your digital projects for this class or expanding them in the future? What sort of benefits do you see to having a non-linear, interacting platform for scholarly work? I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys think!

8 Replies to “Using Digital Tools to Enhance Scholarship”

  1. Hi Madi, thank you for this informative post! After looking through the options available I read an article about using Geospatial Data to Inform Historial Research by Eric Weinberg. The rhetoric used in the article about the incorporation of space into historical research coincides with the arguments posed by Jo Guldi in her article, The Spatial Turn in History. This course will allow historians to use geographic data to analyze historical movements over a significant period of time. These lessons are critical to the development of the scholarly field. I used Scalar frequently in undergrad archaeology courses to create creative exhibits centered around certain themes. The platform is definitely beneficial for projects that require the use of photographs or digitized documents.

  2. Madi, great post! Though it’s a small detail, I wanted to comment on the use of multilingual capability at the Programming Historian. I have to say that one of the biggest surprises to me throughout our course practicums is the small amount of digital resources that are available in more than just English. For those of us who are budding historians, it is a major requirement in most fields of historical study (esp. PhD programs) to be fluent in more than one working language. Somehow, this does not seem to cross over into digital history…or at least in many of the sites we’ve considered. I wonder– in a subject area like digital history that is meant to be more accessible, why is there so little effort into multilingualism? Just something to think about!

  3. Hi Madi, thanks so much for this post! I am almost ashamed? and certainly disappointed to say i have never used either of these platforms, BUT am super grateful to know about them now. In the conversations this week about whether or not we can anticipate monographs/dissertations to be replaced with digital resources, I started thinking about the “in between” generations or even the older generations who don’t want to be left behind in the digital turn–in order to continue to best serve the public, in order to stay competitive in the field, historians need to be able to stay abreast of the latest digital resources/methods (a concern that I believe results in a lot of the hesitancy some academics have to embrace the digital). These platforms, especially those that are open-access, provide the opportunity for historians to continue honing their craft in the digital sphere as methods rapidly evolve.

  4. Thanks for your post Madi! I’m definitely bookmarking The Programming Historian for future reference. Like Sarah, I was also impressed that the site offered lessons in languages beyond English. There’s definitely a disparity in the number offered (around 80 lessons in English vs. 43 in Spanish and only 8 in French), but any effort at multilingualism seems noteworthy. It might just be me, but when looking for a specific topic I found it a little difficult to search through the lessons that are available. Using action terms as categories – Acquire, Transform, Analyze, Present, Sustain – was an interesting choice but left me feeling like I had to page through each one to make sure I didn’t miss what I was looking for. Regardless, definitely a good resource to have!

  5. Thanks for sharing out about these resources Madi! Both of them are really useful and I think they nicely exemplify a lot of the things we are reading and exploring this week.

    In the case of Scalar, it’s been interesting to watch and see the development of platforms like this that can support the production and publication of complex multimedia works of scholarship. In connecting back to Planned Obsolescence, it’s worth underscoring that institutions like University Presses are exploring and experimenting with how these kinds of platforms can be used to support these new forms of publication.

    I really love the Programing Historian. It’s an invaluable platform for learning and developing skills, but I also love that it’s a powerful model for peer-review and publishing in an open online way. As this resource has evolved and developed, the team behind it has thought a lot about authorship, credit, and review and that work has resulted in something that is not only really useful it’s also something that is citable and that folks can represent as scholarship they have produced on their CVs.

  6. Hey Madi! This is a great post of these two sites, these resources seem like they are extremely helpful and I feel like as a future historian I will definitely use them. In the digital age, there are a lot of resources that have been developed and are being developed that people are completely unaware of. With a site like Programming Historian scholars will be able to access information that could help them exponentially in a myriad of different projects, for students they can access the site and find various tools that can help them get ideas for projects in the future. Not only that but the Scalar website goes a bit further by giving scholars an easier way to get there work out to the community, it not only allows them to connect with other scholars but with the potentially the public. These are very cool, thank you so much for this post, and stay well!

  7. So Programming Historian is my new best friend. As a technologically inept, this site gives me hope that one day, I too will know how to use things like Python. Its so encouraging that people are able to submit their own lessons on applications and programs; the more people get comfortable with, the more lessons available. People interested in data collection/information but without access to institutions to teach them skills necessary, they can come to this site and develop their skills through a variety of levels. Its really cool and I wish I knew about it sooner.

  8. As the discussion above proves…this was an awesome post! Programming Historian seems like an unreal tool that will help every one of us learn skills that can benefit our future careers. If anything, this virus crisis has proven that our world is capable of moving online, and we need to ensure we are equally (if not more) capable if we want to thrive. Lord knows we all need a break after a stressful semester, but the lessons learned on Programming Historian might be a good thing to dedicate some time on.

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